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What can cause nausea and vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting occur for many reasons. Common causes include motion sickness, self-limited illnesses (viruses or food poisoning) that last a few hours to a few days, and toxins (such as certain medications).
People should consult a doctor if nausea and/or vomiting are persistent or are accompanied by other severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, yellow discoloration of the skin (jaundice), or bleeding. Individuals with severe or ongoing vomiting who have other serious medical problems, are elderly, are very young, or are pregnant or nursing infants should also seek medical attention.
Motion sickness may occur in many settings including travel by car, air, or boat. This may be the best indication for the use of over-the-counter medications for nausea and vomiting associated with riding in a vehicle. Other inner-ear problems that are related to motion sickness can create a feeling of nausea as well.
Viral infections can cause nausea and vomiting, which is often associated with diarrhea. Often, an "outbreak" can be identified with several cases occurring in the same household or community. Food poisoning from either bacteria or viruses can cause similar symptoms. In both situations, the illnesses generally run their course over a period of one to two days and resolve without treatment. The very young and very old are at risk for dehydration from these usually minor illnesses.
Medications can cause nausea or vomiting and should be suspected when the symptoms appear within a short time after starting a new medication. Notify your prescribing physician if this happens.
Nausea and vomiting are not diseases but symptoms that can be caused by many conditions. Several other less common reasons for nausea and vomiting are
- early stages of pregnancy (nausea occurs in approximately 50%-90% of all pregnancies, vomiting in 25%-55%),
- painful injury,
- postoperative (the period following surgery),
- an emotional or fearful situation,
- gallbladder disease, gallstones or infection (cholecystitis),
- overeating (especially after gastric bypass surgery),
- a reaction to certain smells or odors,
- heart attack (may be the only symptom in some people),
- concussion or head injury,
- brain tumor,
- ulcers or gastritis,
- bulimia or other psychological illnesses, and
- gastroparesis (slow stomach emptying often seen in people with diabetes).